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ClassicsOnline Home » SINDING: Piano Trios Nos. 2 and 3
Christian Sinding (1856-1941)
Piano Trios Nos. 2-3
The second half of the 19th century will forever be
remembered as Norway's golden age of music. Edvard Grieg symbolized the very
spirit of Norwegian art. The elements particular to his country's folk music
struck a sympathetic resonance deep within him, and its intervals and rhythms
became an essential part of his own highly personal expression. Audiences
worldwide delighted in his fresh, nordic tone, his sensitivity to nature and
the romantic sentiment that was the hallmark of the age. Abroad, the name of Grieg
became synonymous with Norwegian music. But for all his fame, Grieg was not
Norway's sole musical spokesman, and among his colleagues another figure stands
out. Johan Svendsen, a noted conductor, is known even today as the first
significant Norwegian symphonist. Grieg's weakness and Svendsen's strength lay
in the command of large symphonic forms. With respect to both it can be said
that theirs were complementary personalities. Together they created Norwegian
Christian Sinding was the prime inheritor of their grand
legacy, but by his time nationalism was losing ground to a more cosmopolitan
brand of late romanticism. In Norway he was destined to be its chief exponent.
In The History of Norwegian Music (1921) the composer David Monrad Johansen, in
prose that today can only be described as purple, describes Sinding as a
rebellious man of action - one we gather with Viking blood coursing through his
veins - who is in his right element not in the enchanted fairyland of Norway's
mountains but on the troubled sea, amid howling winds and crashing waves. This
tempest he compares to a tempest in the composer's soul and goes on to say that
when the storm has been conquered, Sinding's heroic voice assumes a tender and
intimate, but always manly, tone. M.M. Ulfrstad resorts to similar imagery in Cobbett's
Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music (1929) when he likens Grieg's music to an
echo from the mountains - presumably the abode of mournful and idyllic moods -
and Sinding's to an echo from the sea, replete with dashing waves, crashing
storms and Viking daring.
Just as Grieg's admiration of Svendsen was based on the two
composers' opposite as well as shared characteristics, so was his respect for Sinding.
Commentators seldom fail to mention the virile quality of Sinding's music. In
contrast Grieg's compositions are refined and often exquisite, though Debussy
went too far in calling them pink bonbons filled with snow. Like Svendsen's, Sinding's
symphonic ability was the object of Grieg's admiration. Writing from Leipzig in
1887, Grieg gave lavish praise to the first movement of Sinding's first
symphony, which he heard on the piano, calling it magnificent and comparing it
to the corresponding section of Beethoven's ninth symphony, but he added that
it was all Sinding and not Beethoven.
In matters of harmony it comes as no surprise that Grieg
approved of his younger colleague's boldness. New and unexpected combinations
delighted Grieg, and in his own music there are frequent examples of parallel
fifths and sevenths, ingenious mixing of major and minor modes, and chords used
for coloristic rather than functional reasons. The lesson of this all was not
lost on the young Sinding.
Norwegian folk music is central to Grieg's work, but in Sinding's
its deliberate employment is sporadic and superficial. Without doubt a general
Scandinavian feeling permeates much of Sinding's music, but his vigorous
rhythms and bold harmonies might be viewed more accurately as a manifestation
of his Norwegian temperament than as a conscious attempt at nationalism. At
heart Sinding was no folklorist.
He was nordic by birth and had his first music lessons in
Norway - violin with Gudbrand Bøhn and theory with Ludwig Mathias Lindeman -
but his musical identity was shaped in Germany. From 1877 to 1881 he studied
violin with Schradieck, theory with Jadassohn and orchestration with Reinecke
in Leipzig. He came to admire Brahms's classicism and Liszt's cyclical use of
themes. Then in Munich he fell under the Wagnerian spell; his heroic spirit
responded, and the master of Bayreuth's voice left its indelible mark in the
form of restless modulation, ripe harmony and rich orchestration. Behind even
that potent influence there remains, of course, Sinding's basic, healthy
optimism, and even in his most chromatic moments there is never an attempt to
Sinding's greatest popularity was always in Germany and
America. In both countries there was a ready and willing audience for his
heroically determined, heart-on-the-sleeve romanticism of the grand gesture.
Felix Weingartner and Arthur Nikisch championed him, and there were frequent
performances on two continents. Sinding's style had been fully formed in the
1880s and 1890s, and for about four decades his music was in vogue.
But musical fashion changed, and Sinding did not. In the
late works he lapsed into mannerism and lost his spontaneity, and by the late
19205 his popularity was waning.
The same passion for newness that had brought him worldwide
fame in the 1880s left him old-fashioned and declining some forty years later.
That is but one instance of the tragic irony that twice more plagued Sinding's
career: what first worked for him later worked against him.
The second instance involves a piano piece called Frühlingsrauschen.
Here Sinding became a victim of his own success. Composed in 1896, this highly
effective piece, with its rolling arpeggios, fluent melody and fresh impromptu
quality, caught the public by storm. At one time it was thought to be the most
often played piano piece in the world! Unfortunately it was also heard in every
sort of arrangement imaginable. A Dr. Joseph Braunstein recalls having heard it
in Venice's Piazza San Marco, played by a 70-piece brass band. Now there is
nothing wrong with success, but it has been suggested that the ubiquitous Frühlingsrauschen
caused people to forget that Sinding wrote anything else. Two operas, four
symphonies, concertos, chamber works, numerous piano pieces and 250 songs were
all forgotten. Sinding was not the first composer to say it, nor will he be the
last, but he did say it, and it was about Frühlingsrauschen: sometimes he
wished he had never written it.
It reportedly made him a fortune. Also, from 1880 onward he
had received regular grants from the Norwegian government. In 1915 he was given
a lifetime pension and on his 60th birthday an award of 30,000 Norwegian crowns
and official recognition as "the greatest national composer since Grieg."
No doubt Sinding enjoyed the fame, but even that was to turn on him. During the
Second World War the octogenarian composer found himself the hapless victim of
Nazi propaganda - a result of his lifelong love affair with German culture. For
the third time fate had dealt an ironic blow.
Sinding's lasting achievements are in the field of song,
piano music and chamber music. Besides Frühlingsrauschen his other great
success was the Piano Quintet, composed in 1882-84. This was in fact the work
that established him as one of Europe's important young composers. Its
audacious harmonies, modulations and parallel fifths and sevenths stirred up
storms of controversy among musicians. Tchaikovsky is said to have found it
full of wrong notes. The public loved it, and well before the end of the 19th
century it was known from St. Petersburg to Detroit. Symphonic in concept and
derived from the Brahms-Schumann school, it is still regarded as a masterpiece
of the quintet literature.
Sinding followed up the phenomenally successful quintet with
numerous other chamber works, among them three piano trios. The first, in D
minor, dates from 1893, has a simplicity of construction and a folklike
quality, and is the least characteristic of the three.
Written in 1902, the second trio, in A minor, must be
counted among the finest of Sinding's chamber works. It has a generally nordic
mood and a romantic freedom of expression in its flowing melody and frequent
modulation. Frühlingsrauschen was only six years old at the time, and the
trio's piano part shows similar characteristics. It is eminently pianistic,
filled with arpeggios, lush harmonies and brilliant, virtuosic effects. The
string parts are often in unison, and it would not be venturing too much to
describe this trio as a chamber concerto for the piano. The first movement has
a heroic cast, to which the lyrical beauty of the slow movement forms an
effective contrast. The first and second movements begin in the minor mode, but
the virile finale starts in an affirmative A major. Near the end, after a
masterly development and just when a conclusion is expected, a pregnant chord
announces a brief and glorious epilogue. Themes previously heard reappear, and
this fine work ends in a wonderfully satisfying fashion.
The third trio, in C major, followed in 1908. At the outset
a descending motif, strongly reminiscent of Salome, tosses us into a Straussian,
hyper-romantic world. This is stormy, restless, exceedingly chromatic music in
which the highly developed piano part displays a superabundance of arpeggiation.
The mood relaxes with the arrival of the second subject, which is almost a
nature idyll but one with elaborate pianistic figuration. The middle movement,
"Romanze," projects a mood of greater tranquility. All the foregoing
conflict seems resolved, and in the finale Sinding's sunny optimism asserts
With today's renewed interest in late romantic music, the
winds of fashion may perhaps blow again in Sinding's favor. His compositions
are certainly among those that merit reassessment, and if the D minor trio in
particular should make its way into the repertory, we would all be the richer
- David Nelson
Our thanks to Dorothy Elliott Schechter for her expert and
invaluable advice on the trios recorded here.
Ilona Prunyi was born in Debrecen in 1941 and studied at the
Liszt Academy in Budapest, distinguishing herself in the Liszt-Bartók
Competition while still a student. Her career as a concert performer was
interrupted by a period of ill health, and for personal reasons and she spent
ten years as a teacher at the Academy before making her debut in 1974. Since
then she has appeared frequently in solo and chamber music recitals and as a
soloist with the principal Hungarian orchestras. Her playing has won her high
praise from colleagues of the stature of Vilmos Tátrai and Tamás Vásáry.
András Kiss was born in Budapest in 1943 and started violin
lessons at the age of six. He studied at the Bartók Conservatory , and from
1960 at the Liszt Academy, where his teacher was Tibor Ney. A postgraduate
scholarship enabled him to undertake further study under M. Vayman at the
Leningrad Conservatory. A prize-winner in the Leipzig International Bach
Competition in 1968, András Kiss was appointed in the same year to the staff of
the Liszt Academy, where he continues to teach. As a performer he appears
regularly in Hungary and has toured extensively in East and West Europe, the
United States and Canada.
The Hungarian cellist Tamás Koó was born in Budapest in 1950
and started to learn the cello at the age of eight. He entered the Bartók
Conservatory in Budapest in 1964 and in 1969 completed his studies with the
first prize in the Hungarian Music Schools Competition. He undertook further
study at the Liszt Music Academy under the cellist László Mezó and András Mihály.
In 1973 he was awarded second prize in the Pablo Casals International Cello
Competition in Budapest.
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SINDING: Piano Trios Nos. 2 and 3